Newt Gingrich is dramatically curtailing his campaign schedule, laying off about a third of his staff and dismissing his campaign manager as he focuses on a last-ditch effort to win the Republican presidential nomination at the party's convention.
Gingrich's strategy hinges on preventing front-runner Mitt Romney from winning the 1,144 delegates he needs for the nomination, Gingrich spokesman RC Hammond said Tuesday night. The former speaker of the House of Representatives plans to spend much less time in primary states and instead personally call delegates to try to persuade them to back him at the Republican National Convention in August.
Until Romney has the needed delegates, Gingrich said Wednesday, "I owe it to the people that helped me for the last year to represent their views and their values."
"Romney has to earn this. It's not going to be given to him," Gingrich told Washington, D.C., radio station WTOP.
Ultimately, Gingrich would take the fight to the convention floor, Hammond said.
The new strategy doesn't change Gingrich's promise to support Romney if Romney collects the necessary delegates before the party convenes in late August to choose its nominee, Hammond said.
Gingrich's campaign manager, Michael Krull, was asked to resign. Hammond and campaign communications director Joe DeSantis will remain with the campaign. Both have been working for Gingrich for more than a year, even as a group of consultants quit the campaign last summer.
The changes in Gingrich's strategy and campaign staff were first reported by Politico.
The rollback in the campaign comes after Gingrich listed more than $1.5 million in outstanding debt by the end of February, according to Federal Election Commission filings, including legal fees and advertising production costs. At the same time, he had about $1.5 million cash on hand, the lowest of the four Republican candidates.
Campaigning Tuesday in Maryland, Gingrich conceded that he is strapped for campaign funds. "The money is very tight, obviously," he said. "That's why we're trying to raise more money."
Rick Santorum, Gingrich's rival for the anti-Romney vote among conservatives, responded to the news thatGingrich was scaling back his campaign by urging Republicans to back his effort, not Romney's.
"One of the things I was told very early on in presidential politics is that you run for president as long as the money hangs on," former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum told reporters Tuesday night.
"I think it is time for all the Republican candidates to coalesce behind me," Santorum said. "You know, let's just have a conservative nominee to take on Barack Obama. Until that time happens, I'm not going to call on anyone to get out."
Hobbled by weak fundraising and well behind Romney in the hunt for delegates, Gingrich has been under growing pressure to help unify Republicans by dropping out of the race.
In a nod to those who think he should give way to Romney, Gingrich on Tuesday pledged to support his rival's bid if the former Massachusetts governor wins enough convention delegates to clinch the nomination by the end of the Republican primary season in June.
If Romney falls short, Gingrich said, "I think you'll then have one of the most interesting, open conventions in American history."
Gingrich tried to position himself as an antiestablishment figure in the race while playing up the 20 years he spent in the House, including a stint as speaker. He has struggled since his campaign peaked just before the Iowa caucuses kicked off the nominating process in January. Devastating attacks from Romney and a Romney-aligned super political action committee have helped to deny him further victories.
Gingrich had hoped for a Southern-based comeback in the race, but Santorum won contests in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. The former House speaker has won just two primaries, in South Carolina and Georgia.